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Oregon economy continues to add jobs, nears full recovery

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Economist says construction sector is booming; others except education show gains from onset of pandemic.

 

By PETER WONG

Oregon Capital Bureau

 

The addition of 8,700 jobs in June moves Oregon a little closer to full recovery from the pandemic downturn in spring 2020, when the official unemployment rate shot up to 13.2%.

Oregon’s gains kept the statewide unemployment rate in June at 3.6%, essentially unchanged from the previous month (adjusted to 3.5%) and identical to the national average. The record low of 3.4% prevailed from November 2019 through February 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We continue to have a strong labor market,” Gail Krumenauer, economist for the Oregon Employment Department, said Wednesday, July 20, in an online briefing for reporters. “Large job gains have been reported over many sectors of the economy. No broad sector of Oregon’s economy had large job losses in June.”

According to the June report, also issued July 20, construction led monthly gains with 2,800 jobs. Its 118,700 jobs overall is a historical peak for Oregon, surpassing the 112,300 in February 2020.

All construction industries grew rapidly over the past 12 months, with several growing by double-digits: Building finishing contractors, up 13.2%; building equipment contractors, up 11.5%; heavy and civil engineering construction, up 10.8%; and specialty trade contractors, up 10.7%.

Monthly growth also occurred in other services, such as auto repairs and hair salons, 1,600; health care and social assistance and leisure and hospitality (bars, entertainment, hotels and restaurants), 1,300 each.

“We have seen some sectors still struggle to get back to their pre-pandemic levels,” Krumenauer said.

She said the health care and social assistance sector has rebounded strongly in the first half of this year, after lagging through the end of 2021.

The leisure and hospitality sector also has added 28,500 jobs between June 2021 and June 2022, or 16.4% growth. But Krumenauer said recovery in that sector is still only 87% of pre-pandemic levels, and 14,600 jobs remain to reach those levels.

She said public and private education continue to lag in job growth.

Oregon has regained 94% of the jobs lost during the pandemic, compared with 98% for the nation as a whole. For Oregon’s private sector, that mark is 98%.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, which prepares the state’s quarterly economic and revenue forecasts, has projected that Oregon will see a complete recovery of jobs by the end of this year. When that occurs, the recovery period of two-and-a-half years from the downturn will have been relatively short — far shorter than the seven years Oregon required to recover from economic downturns in the 1980s and 2010s. Those earlier recessions did not see a record one-month jump in the unemployment rate from 3.4% to 13.2% during March and April 2020, unlike what happened in the pandemic — but high unemployment rates persisted longer.

On Monday, July 18, the Employment Department released its second-quarter report on job vacancies. The agency has compiled such reports since 2013 — and the 106,500 vacancies in the newest report means that Oregon has now exceeded the 100,000 mark for a full year. Employers told the agency that three of every four vacancies was hard to fill. (Counting spring 2021, vacancies ranged between 97,000 and 107,000 for a record five quarters.)

“The need for workers was widespread,” Krumenauer said. “Businesses are looking to fill a variety of jobs in more than 280 occupations. That means it’s still a tight labor market where employers are having trouble trying to find enough workers.”

In Oregon and the nation as a whole, she said there are two job vacancies for every unemployed person. Krumenauer said employers have raised pay, added benefits, increased job flexibility, changed job requirements, and advertised vacancies more widely, including the statewide network of WorkSource centers run by the Employment Department and partner agencies.

 

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